Monday, August 14, 2017

FOOD AND WINE PAIRING

What sort of food?   The very first and most important step is to decide whether your food is going to be delicate and mild tasting or hearty and flavorful. Is it going to be fatty or lean? Will it be rich, buttery and creamy or will it be thin, sharp and acidic? The wine and the food must balance each other so that a hearty dish will match a hearty wine while a mild flavored food will require a delicate wine. What is important is that neither the wine nor the food should overwhelm the other.

So a delicate Dover Sole for example would go well with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio but not with a Chardonnay; while a hearty steak-and-kidney pie would complement a Malbec but probably overwhelm a Beaujolais. However, the Beaujolais would go well with a light lunch such as cold ham, charcuterie and salad while the Chardonnay would be the perfect match for a rich chicken in cream sauce.

Traditional Red /meat: White /fish rule:   Some fish, such as cod, haddock and mackerel as well as all shellfish, are high in iodine, which is why red wines don’t do well with them. The iodine content reacts with the tannins in red wine and makes both the fish and the wine taste metallic and nasty. However, red wines like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or even certain Chiantis that are not high in tannins go very well with fish such as salmon or sea bass. Meats like chicken or pork go very well with full bodied white wines like Chardonnay, Riesling or even Gewürztraminer and rich patés like foie-gras in Perigord are traditionally enjoyed with a late harvest white wine like Monbazillac.

Tannins and Acids:  Tannins not only enhance the complexity of the wine itself but are also very useful for cleansing the palette of fatty foods. Lamb chops for example or a grilled beef steak will both be improved with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa whose astringent tannins will strip away the fatty coating inside your mouth.

Acids perform the same function as tannins in cutting through fat and so a fried chicken or smoked salmon, which would be overwhelmed by the tannins of a Cabernet would respond well to the cleansing acids of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Acids in wine should also match the acid in food. Pasta with a tomato sauce or indeed any food over which you squeeze lime or lemon juice should be paired with a light acidic wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or even Alvarinho. Cream sauces on the other hand will react badly to acid and so should be paired with richer more full bodied whites such as Chardonnay and Viognier.

National pairings and wine:  When in doubt, just match the wine with the nationality of the food. The two have evolved together over generations and – within the obvious rules listed above – will always complement each other. For example a pasta dish will almost always do well with Chianti and a Boeuf Bourguignon will always improve with Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

In my book, the section “Forty wines to try before you die” lists twenty-four different varietals in order of lightness with the more full bodied and heavier wines listed last. However, bear in mind that varietals often vary depending on their origin. For example, a Chardonnay from Chablis which is fairly flinty and austere would go well with snails or a fish simply grilled with butter and garlic but not with a chicken in cream sauce.  Chicken and cream sauce requires a more full bodied Chardonnay from California or Australia.

The following websites have excellent food and wine pairing tables and suggestions:


Saturday, August 5, 2017

NEW WORLD vs OLD WORLD WINES (Part Two)

Marketing: While many European vineyards, especially in Burgundy, remain small family-owned affairs, many of the New World vineyards are owned by large corporations. The recent international increase in wine consumption leading to the dramatic globalization of the wine industry has led to vast economies of scale. In order to secure a contract with Costco or Tesco—who will need to stock the shelves of hundreds of their retailers—the wine producer needs to guarantee the delivery of thousands of bottles of consistently identical and dependable wine. This means that small independent wineries cannot compete with giant corporations. Consequently, especially in the New World, there has been rapid consolidation in the industry, with large international conglomerates owning lots of different brands in many different countries. Constellation Brands, for example, owns ninety-one different wine  brands, including Mondavi in California, Kim Crawford in New Zealand, and Ruffino in Italy. The quintessential French company Pernod owns the quintessential Australian Shiraz producer, Jacob’s Creek, and the quintessential Australian beer producer, Fosters (through its Treasury Estates subsidiary) owns that jewel of Napa Valley wineries, Beringer. The consumer may believe that he is getting a cute bottle of French artisanal wine from the Languedoc when he buys a bottle of Red Bicyclette, but the winery is actually owned, controlled, and marketed by E&J Gallo, California’s largest producer of jug-wines.

In his fascinating book Wine Politics, Tyler Colman quotes a senior French wine industry official in 2000, saying, “We don’t make wine to please consumers. We make wines that are typical of their terroirs. Fortunately for us, consumers like them.” Unfortunately for that arrogant official, the times are a-changing, and consumers are no longer dependent on the dictates of French bureaucrats. The Aussies have joined the game. While the winemakers of Burgundy fine tune their Appellation laws and wine labels to differentiate one side of a hill from another, and German winemakers create consumer confusion with labels mixing Grosslage with Einzellagen, the Australians cut straight to the chase with pictures of sweet, cuddly animals.

In 2005, the Old World conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey) sold six hundred thousand cases of wine at an average price of $44, making $26 million. However, in the same year, the New World newcomer, Yellowtail, sold seven million cases of wine at an average cost of $6, making $42 million.


Yellowtail is a family owned Australian wine company that only began exporting to the United States in 2000, and which branded itself with brightly colored images of a cute Wallaby. In 2001, it sold 112,000 cases, a number that jumped to 7.5 million in 2005, helped by distribution through Costco. Yellow Tail has enjoyed similar success in the UK, which, in 2000, began importing more wine from Australia than from France. And in 2005, Yellowtail sold more wine to the US than all the French producers combined. Both research and experience demonstrates that most consumers today, especially when buying New World wines, want to buy wine by grape variety and brand name. Young consumers in particular tend to avoid what they consider to be confusing and pretentious wine labels, characteristic of some Old World wine bottles. Terroir and provenance have been surpassed by cute and cuddly.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

NEW WORLD VS OLD WORLD WINES [Part One]

Most of the vineyards in the New World are in hotter climates than their European homeland; consequently, with more dependable sunshine, the grapes are riper, resulting in wines which have a higher alcohol level and which are more full-bodied and fruitier. It has been argued, not without a certain level of Eurocentric snobbery as well as a certain level of truth, that New World wines reflect their culture—being more “loud” and “brash” than their more subtle and discreet European counterparts. In some ways, this has been exacerbated by Robert Parker, the American wine critic who has encouraged more full-bodied and fruit-forward wines in the New World.

Fruit Bombs: As discussed elsewhere, I have mixed feelings concerning Robert Parker. Initially, many Californian winemakers were striving to reproduce French wines and to recreate the same tastes. It was Parker who told them to be true to their terroir and to make wines which reflected the local conditions. “If you want to make French wines,” he said, “go to France.” This is most clearly shown in the difference between Chardonnay wines from Burgundy and California. The Californian Chardonnays are much more oaky, alcoholic, fruitier, and full-bodied. The Burgundies are far more subtle and lighter-bodied, exhibiting more herb, earth, mineral, and floral components. Parker is correct in encouraging the Californians to be themselves and not slavishly copy the French; it is just that his opinion is so influential that the pendulum has now swung the other way, and all Chardonnays are becoming the “hedonistic fruit bombs” that Parker so enjoys. The average alcohol content for European reds is about 12.5 percent while in the New World, 14 percent is more common.

Many Europeans argue that New World fruit-bombs overwhelm food, and that the lack of acidity and tannins fails to cleanse the palette while eating. However, while Europeans have always associated wine with food, a 2011 survey by Wine Opinions (www.wineopinions.com), found that most of the wine consumed by Americans is not drunk as part of a meal but rather alone as a cocktail, before or after a meal. So the harmonious balance of acid, tannins, and fruit, which pairs so well with food, is less important when the wines are to be enjoyed by themselves and the soft-rounded pleasures of the fruit can stand alone.

Annual variations and vintages: One of the big differences between annual vintages in Europe is rainfall. Lack of rain or too much rain, or rain falling at the wrong time, can destroy a whole year’s crop. This is why the quality of the wine from major European regions varies from year to year, and why the vintage of a European wine is of such importance. This is much less of a problem in the New World, where seasons are much more predictable and consistent. Much of Europe’s wine country is in the Mediterranean climate zone, with unpredictable rainfall and climate fluctuations. Much of California, however, like Australia and Chile, is desert. As early as 1962, Professor Albert J. Winkler at UC Berkeley had analyzed the temperature and climate of California’s grape-producing regions, and divided them into what are still referred to as the five Winkler Zones. Within those five zones, the annual rainfall and temperatures are fairly consistent, and thus predictable, by the winegrower. Rain does not usually fall during the growing season, and so water is provided, through irrigation, by the farmers. This means that the farmer has much more control over the growth and development of the vine, and it also means that his wines can be consistent from year to year. The only potential downside to this is drought. As this book is being written, California is introducing drastic laws to restrict car washing and lawn watering in order to adjust to the fourth year of severe drought; but so far, in mid 2017, Californian winegrowers have not yet been affected.

Varietals: With over two thousand years of experimentation and experience, Europeans had learned which grape varietals grew best in which region, and thus the concept of terroir and regional styles developed, most especially in France. Consumers were aware of the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux, for example, or Champagne and Chablis. New World winegrowers, however, had to learn by trial and error, and so would plant a wide variety of different vines in the same geographic area. There was no concept of terroir, and the difference between a Napa and Sonoma red wine was a meaningless concept. Nobody had heard of either place; there was no tradition or reputation behind either name. Winegrowers, therefore, referred back to the French classics, and would label their red wines “Burgundy” and their white wines “Chablis,” for example. Initially, most New World wines were simply imitations of Old World wines, and so in addition to Californian Burgundy and Chablis, there was Australian Sherry and South African Port.


The formation of the European Union in the 1970s gave increased legal power to European winemakers who objected to the indiscriminate use of regional names like Champagne and Burgundy. At the same time, wine writers like Frank Schoonmaker and winemakers like Robert Mondavi encouraged the Alsace tradition of classifying and labeling the wines by their constituent grape. Consequently, for the past forty years, all New World wines have been identified by their grape varietal rather than their terroir. Today, even some French wines are identifying the varietal on the label in order to compete in the US market.





Monday, July 31, 2017

NEW WORLD WINES


“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Gevrey Chambertin.”―  Napoleon Bonaparte

The Vitis vinifera vine finally expanded beyond the bounds of Europe in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Two peoples are primarily responsible for the spread of wine production in the New World: the Spanish, who needed an abundant supply of wine to celebrate the Catholic Mass in all the lands they conquered, and the English, who needed wine to assuage the thirst of their sailors and soldiers in the Empire on which the sun never set.

The Spanish took vines, probably from the locality of Cadiz from which they set sail across the Atlantic, and which themselves were the vines first planted by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC. They were known as “Mission Vines,” and planted all over the New World in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The first vineyards were planted on Hispaniola, and later in Mexico (1549) and Peru (possibly as early as 1540).

Spanish colonization of the Americas occurred primarily on the West Coast, first in South America moving south from Peru to Chile, and eventually north from Mexico into what is today California, where each new Mission along the Pacific Coast planted its own vineyard. In all cases, the motivation was to supply wine for the Eucharist during the celebration of the Catholic Mass. At the same time, there was a continuing but often ignored prohibition from the Spanish authorities, who wanted to export Spanish wine and did not want the colonies to be self-sufficient. The problems were that wine from Spain had usually oxidized by the time it had crossed the ocean, it was expensive, and the locally produced wine simply tasted better.

While the Spanish controlled the west coast of both North and South America, the English and French struggled to control the East and Center of North America. Part of the English desire for a colony in North America was to have an independent source of wine so they would not be dependent on other European suppliers. Unfortunately, neither the French nor the English realized that because of the vine disease Phylloxera, vines would not grow, either on the English controlled East Coast or in the French colonies of Louisiana and New France.

Moving in the other direction, however, both the English and the Dutch realized that the Cape Colony of South Africa was the perfect base to grow wine and resupply their navies sailing to their Empires in the Far East. Very soon, by 1685, the South African wines of Constantia were actually being shipped back to Europe for consumption by Frederick the Great in Prussia and Catherine the Great in Russia.


From South Africa, the English started to transplant South African vines to the new colonies in Australia as early as 1788, and the exercise was so successful that by 1822, Australia, referred to as England’s vineyard, was exporting its wines to Europe, and by the 1880s was winning international prizes.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Cure for a disappointed heart

With its Mediterranean climate, well-drained soils of clay, shale, and limestone, proximity to the waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and warm growing climate, South Africa is the ideal place to grow top-quality wines. Hugh Johnson wrote, “The most dramatically beautiful wine country in the world is surely South Africa.” Geographically, it was ideally located for the Dutch and English fleets to restock with fresh wine en route to their empires and colonies further to the east.


The first vineyards were planted by the Dutch in 1654, initially just to supply the Dutch sailors heading to the Orient, but by the end of the seventeenth century, the sweet white wines of Constantia were so highly-regarded that they were being shipped back to Europe for the Royal courts. Both Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia praised the dessert wines of Constantia, and Napoleon Bonaparte had as much as 1,126 liters (297 gallons) of Constantia wine shipped in wooden casks each year to Longwood House, his home in exile on St. Helena, from 1815 until his death in 1821. The Count de las Cases reported that, on his deathbed, after consuming thirty bottles each month, Napoleon refused everything offered to him but a glass of Constantia wine. Even Jane Austen recommended Constantia wine’s healing powers for a disappointed heart, and other writers, from Charles Dickens to Charles Baudelaire, spoke glowingly of its charms and pleasures.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Champagne bottles



Champagne (which used to be part of the Duchy of Burgundy and which is therefore made of the Burgundian grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) uses a Burgundy-style bottle. However, because the pressure inside the bottle can be 90 psi (three times the pressure of a normal car tire), the glass needs to be extra thick. Also, the punt is more pronounced, enabling the riddler to turn the bottle in the rack. Most Champagne is bottled in green glass, but pink or rose Champagne is bottled in clear glass to show off the color.

In addition to the standard 750 ml bottle, Champagne also comes in larger bottles—though I suspect the benefits are more visual than gustatory:

  • Magnum – 1.5 liters (two regular bottles)
  • Jeroboam (a.k.a. Double Magnum) – 3 liters (four bottles)
  • Rehoboam - 4.5 liters (six bottles)
  • Methuselah – 6 liters (eight bottles)
  • Salmanazar – 9 liters (twelve bottles)
  • Balthazar – 12 liters (sixteen bottles)
  • Nebuchadnezzar – 15 liters (twenty bottles)
  • Solomon – 18 liters (twenty-four bottles)
  • Goliath – 27 liters (thirty-six bottles)
  • Melchizedek or Midas – 30 liters (forty regular bottles)

Winegrowers in Burgundy and Bordeaux also produce large format bottles with similarly Biblical names—but not to the extent found in Champagne.


Monday, July 17, 2017

SEX & PINOT NOIR

Joel Fleischman of Vanity Fair describes Pinot Noir as "the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic." Master Sommelier, Madeline Triffon, calls Pinot Noir "sex in a glass," while Peter Richardsson of OenoStyle christened it "a seductive yet fickle mistress!" Robert Parker has said of Pinot Noir “When it's great, Pinot Noir produces the most complex, hedonistic, and remarkably thrilling red wine in the world.” The children’s author, Roald Dahl, once wrote that "to drink a Romanée-Conti [Pinot Noir] is like having an orgasm in the mouth and nose at the same time."

A grape which can inspire such passions can be paired only with a writer of sublime and sensuous sensitivity, such as King Solomon and his Song of Songs:  
               
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine … How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. … You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.  Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love."

Obviously inspired by the Song of Songs, and possibly a glass, or two, of Pinot Noir as well, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote in his “Ode to Wine:

    "My darling, suddenly
     the line of your hip
     becomes the brimming curve
     of the wine goblet,
     your breast is the grape cluster,
     your nipples are the grapes,
     the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
     and your navel is a chaste seal
     stamped on the vessel of your belly,
     your love an inexhaustible

     cascade of wine."



Saturday, July 15, 2017

SEX & WINE

According to Vinpair, the online magazine devoted to 'wine, beer and spirits', the best way to pair a wine with a romp in the hay is with a bottle of red, as explained in the following article: http://tinyurl.com/ycxjn5oc

If you ask Leon Phelps – aka the “Ladies Man” – about the most essential ingredient for love, Courvoisier will be his answer every time. As he so famously said in his trademark lisp, “usually it only takes me a bottle of Courvoisier and some Lou Rawls to get excited, you know?” Booze, and red wine in particular, is listed as one of the top ten aphrodisiacs for love, but have a bit too much, and alcohol can turn from being good for your sex drive to being bad very quickly – don’t pretend you’re the only one who hasn’t had a few too many and then had a not-so-fun romp in the sheets. So what’s the ideal dosage for love? Let us prescribe it to you.

When we first take a sip of booze, alcohol’s initial effects as one of the world’s greatest social lubricants begins to take hold. We feel looser, more open and often, much more relaxed. This is the liquid courage we hear so much about, and it’s why so many of us seem to have the most success when meeting someone out at a bar. At this initial stage, we feel more confident to take a risk – which includes talking to that attractive person across the room.

It’s at the level of about one to two drinks, when most people report feeling the most pleasure. Alcohol stimulates the receptors in our brain, and at one or two drinks in, that slight buzz and warm feeling aren’t being overwhelmed by the feelings of dizziness, nausea and even depression, which can set in after consuming a good bit. It’s also at this light level of alcohol intake when we’re most likely to perform our best – drinking and driving is not the only thing you should avoid when drunk.

And while all alcohol in moderation helps a bit when it comes to sexual pleasure and desire, none has more benefits than red wine, both for males and females. For the ladies, red wine causes the sex drive to be even more pronounced than with other drinks, at least according to a group of Italian researchers who discovered that the compounds in the wine actually enhance levels of sexual desire in the fairer sex. What the researchers uncovered was that the red wine specifically increased blood flow to women’s erogenous areas, which in turn led to increased levels of desire. The researchers were quick to point out, however, that after more than a drink or two the other effects of alcohol began to take hold, which led to a less pleasurable experience. Moderation, it seems, is key.

For men, not only does a drink or two loosen things up and increase blood flow to essential areas, but red wine also seems to increase levels of testosterone in the blood, a necessary hormone when it comes to male sexual arousal and “appetite.” Normally a male’s body rids itself of testosterone when an enzyme called UGT2B17 attaches specific molecules to testosterone, enabling the body to identify it and get rid of it through the urine. But when consuming a glass of red, a compound inside the wine called quercetin effectively blocks UGT2B17, preventing the body from excreting it, and thereby raising levels of testosterone in the blood. However, just as with women, a few too many drinks and all alcohol, including red wine, can have the reverse effect, lowering testosterone and decreasing the sex drive.


So when it comes to alcohol and sex, the best prescription is opening and splitting a bottle of red with your partner. It’s the perfect amount for you to each have two glasses and experience the positive effects the combination of wine and sex can deliver, with a smaller chance of the negatives.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Old Wine (Really Old Wine).

Three cases of Madeira wine were discovered at a New Jersey university.
Everyone’s basement has been known to get cluttered at some point. That’s what it’s there for, right? Your own private hoarder’s paradise that no one ever has to know about. Even if the space doubles as a wine cellar, sure, maybe some boxes get moved around and you forget about a few bottles until the next spring cleaning. Or in the case of the Kean family, maybe you forget about a few cases… for 221 years.

During a recent restoration project at Liberty Hall Museum on what is now New Jersey’s Kean University, staff discovered nearly three cases of Madeira wine from 1796, as well as around 42 demijohns from the 1820s, according to NJ.com. Even more amazingly, much of the Madeira – which is a resilient fortified wine similar to port – is believed to still be in good, drinkable condition. In the 18th century, Madeira – which comes from the islands of the same name located in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Portugal – was popular in the states because it was able to cross the Atlantic without losing its quality. That same steadfastness is why it’s likely been able to hold up over two centuries later. “So you could open some of these bottles, and it might be perfect," said Bill Schroh Jr, Liberty Hall’s director of operations. Liberty Hall President John Kean even tried a bit, comparing it favorably to a sweet sherry.

Of course, how any alcohol gets lost in a wine cellar for over 200 years is another story entirely. Liberty Hall was first built in 1760 as a getaway for a rich New York lawyer. In 1811, the Kean family moved in, where multiple generations lived until 1973. Now a museum, every year, the staff has chosen a different room to renovate, according to Kean University’s The Tower. 2016 was the year of the cellar – a room that hadn’t been properly cleaned in 50 years – which is what lead to the recent wine discovery. “There were bottles on top of bottles,” said Schroh; “some were bad, some were good, some were popped and emptied, some were broken; but there were just so many. There were at least 200 years’ worth of bottles in there.”

Even Kean wasn’t entirely aware of what was in the basement. “We knew there was a lot of liquor down here, but we had no idea as to the age of it,” he said. Perhaps what they should have done is let some of the university students loose in there on a Saturday night: If there’s alcohol to be found, they’d have found it.

The museum is now believed to have the largest known collection of Madeira in the United States, though the value of all that wine isn’t being disclosed. At this point, the bottles are simply being put on display as part of the museum; however, it’s worth noting that, technically, the wine is still property of John Kean and the Kean family. Schroh even pointed out that, if he wanted to, Kean could come by and grab a bottle at any time.

As reported in Food&Wine Magazine.






Friday, July 7, 2017

Wine Cultures

Wine is an alcoholic drink made from the fermented juice of fruit, specifically the fruit of the grape vine Vitis vinifera.  Most non-Moslem countries and cultures have evolved social rituals for the consumption of alcohol, using it to celebrate feast days and special occasions such as weddings. In many societies, alcohol is consumed in the form of distilled spirits, drunk in small shots and often accompanied by toasts. In Russia, for example, vodka is widely drunk; in China and Japan it is baijiu or sake. This drinking of distilled spirits, consumed in small shots, is typically limited to groups of males and can often result in public inebriation.

The European tradition of wine consumption is different, in that the wine is sipped slowly, usually accompanied by food, and in social or family groups that include women. Wine drinking is thus regarded as a healthier and more civilized way of consuming alcohol. In modern societies, where women are playing an increasingly independent and important role in business and public life, wine drinking is thus becoming more and more widespread.

Whether for reasons of health, economics, or social change, the consumption of distilled spirits and beer has seen a steady decline in the twenty-first century while the consumption of wine has increased dramatically. Cocktail parties have long been being replaced by wine-and-cheese parties, and prime rib dinners are increasingly washed down with Burgundy rather than bourbon. For the world’s two largest markets, wine consumption in the US and China is forecast to increase by 25 percent between 2014 and 2018.

In 2010, the US became the world’s largest consumer of wine, surpassing even France. But while wine drinking in France, as in most of Mediterranean Europe, is part of the traditional culture, in America wine drinking is something new. For a variety of reasons which I examine in my book, North America has evolved a long tradition of whisky and cocktail drinking, while wine drinking was regarded with a certain amount of suspicion as being “European” with all the ambivalent connotations that the word implies.

From an early age, most Southern Europeans have been drinking wine with every meal; they drink wine to quench their thirst and to help them digest their food. In France, wine drinking crosses all class divisions; rich and poor, young and old regard wine as the natural accompaniment to every meal. Of the Italians, it has been said that they do not drink wine, they eat it; meaning that, like salt and pepper, wine is regarded as an everyday accompaniment to food. Of course rich Europeans can afford more expensive wine than poor Europeans, but it is believed that no man is so poor he cannot afford a glass of red to aid his digestion.

A two thousand word survey of French wine, Etude Des Vignobles de France: Regions Du Sud-Est Et Du Sud-Ouest, published by the eminent Dr. Jules Guyot in 1868, concluded:

Wine is the most precious and stimulating element of the human diet. Its use in family meals saves a third of bread and meat, but more than that, wine stimulates and strengthens the body, warms the heart, develops the spirit of sociability; encourages activity, decisiveness, courage and satisfaction in one’s work.

Many young European children begin drinking wine (mixed with water) at mealtimes. In contrast, Americans prohibit alcohol until the age of twenty-one, often leading to binge drinking at college. Therefore, if only for legal reasons, those Americans who do enjoy wine usually did not start drinking it until they were in their twenties, and then only for special occasions. Consequently, although attitudes are changing, compared to Europeans, Americans are often self-conscious or apprehensive about drinking wine and still regard it as something “mysterious.”


My book has been written to dispel those fears and to remove the mystery from wine. Based closely on the very popular six week Wine Appreciation program offered regularly at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, the book covers all the basics, from the history of wine to how best to drink and, most importantly, how to discover and appreciate its many pleasures.

Friday, June 30, 2017

WORLD'S MOST EXPENSIVE RED WINES

I have a birthday coming up next week and so my wife asked me to make a list of what I would like as a present.

The following is a list of the price, per 750ml bottle, of the world's most expensive red wines.

10. Chateau Margaux 2009 – $4,062
9. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti 1990 – $20,975
8. Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945 – $23,000
7. Chateau Lafite 1865 – $24,577
6. Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 1941 – $24,675
5. Cheval Blanc 1947 – $33,781
4. Penfolds Grange Hermitage 1951 – $38,420
3. Chateau Lafite 1787 – $160,000
2. Chateau Margaux 1787 – $500,000
1. Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 – $500,000


Asking for all of them would just be plain greedy, so I'll let her choose.


Monday, June 26, 2017

What makes a good VINE

The eventual taste and quality of a wine depends on a number of factors:
Latitude: Wine-producing vines are grown all over the world in a belt roughly between thirty and fifty degrees latitude north or south of the equator. North of the equator includes the Mediterranean region as far north as Germany, and from sSouthern California as far north as Washington State. South of the equator, the band runs from Central Chile and Argentina, through the tip of South Africa to Southern Australia and New Zealand. The further away from the equator, the less sun there is. Less sun means less sugar and fruit on the vine, and consequently less alcohol and less color in the wine. Wines grown closer to the equator by contrast have more body, a darker color, and higher alcohol content.
Elevation: Where there is less sun, vines need to be grown on a slope so that they catch as much sunlight as possible. This is why German vineyards are all on south-facing slopes of river valleys. Vineyards in the South of France by contrast, already get enough sunlight and so do not need the angled slopes. In California, where fog from the cold Pacific creeps into the valleys most evenings, some types of grapes benefit from the cooling effects of the fog, while other grapes, such as Zinfandel, thrive at a higher elevation above the fog line.
Soil and drainage: Unlike most other crops, good vines do not benefit from rich fertile soil. Most vineyards are found in stony and infertile regions—but with good drainage. Poor topsoil forces the root of the vine to force itself deep into the ground in search of water. This results in stronger and more powerful roots, which can better absorb the complex taste of the minerals through which they dig. Limestone, chalk, volcanic pumice, and gravel are all especially favorable for vines, as they absorb and store rainwater and are rich in complex minerals from ancient marine life.
Climate: The prevailing microclimate of individual regions obviously has a major influence on the cultivation of grapes. The Languedoc region of Southern France has long, hot summers, little rain, and the drying effect of the Mistral winds, thus producing large quantities of dark-red wine with high alcohol. The river valleys of the Mosel in Germany have a much cooler climate with far more rain, and consequently produce pale-white wines which are low in alcohol.
Climate Change: Controversial or not, climate change is having a profound effect on the world’s vineyards, especially in Europe, where the boundary for wine growing moves steadily northward. The vineyards of Burgundy, which have always been vulnerable to cold winters resulting in poor harvests, have enjoyed an unprecedented twenty years of perfect growing seasons. The worry is that eventually, as the climate warms, it will become too hot for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnays, which also need cool evenings in order to produce that Burgundian magic. In Germany, too, with the extra sunshine, the Riesling grapes are producing more sugar, and thus the Auslese wines of the Moselle are becoming sweeter and more alcoholic.
The main beneficiaries of climate change are the English, who are finally able to grow their own vines and make their own wine without being beholden to any beastly foreigners. Various French Champagne houses are actually buying land in Southern England and planting vineyards in the same chalky, limestone soil they are used to back home in Northern France. The area of vines planted in England and Wales has doubled from 761 hectares in 2004 to about 1,500 hectares in 2013. The country now has almost 500 vineyards, and English “champagnes” are winning international prizes and being compared favorably—even by the French—to the best French Champagnes. In 1998, an English Classic Cuvée 1993, won first prize at the International Wine & Spirit Competition and was voted best sparkling wine in the world.
Varietal: Varietal refers to the specific type of grape, each of which have different requirements and produce different types of wine. Some varietals need more rain while others need more sun. Some varietals require a longer growing season, some bud early in the year, others reach fruition later. Over the centuries, winegrowers have matched the different varieties of grape with the ideal climate, elevation, and soil type. In Europe, with over 2,000 years of experience, different regions have their own specific grape varietal; in Burgundy, all red wines are made from the Pinot Noir grape, while in Tuscany all red wines are made with the Sangiovese grape. (The major different varietals are described alphabetically starting in Chapter Six.)
Vintner: The vintner, or winemaker, is the person whose decisions affect the final quality of the wine. Until recently, the vintner would rely on tradition, using the wisdom and experience passed down from his father and grandfather who had typically been producing wine in the same place for generations. These days, the vintner is probably university-trained and bases his decisions on the latest scientific research. Another major difference is that these days, the vintner is very often female, as more and more women are running vineyards and directing wineries. Today, there are even “Flying Winemakers” who travel the world, sharing their expertise for the week or two they spend visiting different vineyards and wineries on their travels.
VITICULTURE: HOW VINES ARE GROWN       (SUN + GRAPE = SUGAR)

The Vine: The vine is nature’s factory that produces the sugar out of earth, air, sun and water which the vintner will ultimately use to make wine. The roots of the vine pull water out of the earth, while the chlorophyll in the green leaves draws carbon dioxide out of the surrounding air. By the magical process of photosynthesis, light from the sun transforms these simple ingredients into sucrose sugars. The rising sap then takes this sucrose into the flesh of the grapes, which is used to provide the seeds with energy. This whole cycle has no other purpose than to provide the seeds with enough food and vigor to start the next generation. The production of juicy grapes or fine wines is purely incidental to Nature, whose only interest lies in propagating the endless cycle of birth and rebirth.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Finally - the printed book!


I've just received a proof copy of my book, The Booklovers' Guide to Wine from my publisher at Books&Books Press. For any writer, this is always the most exciting moment; holding the physical reality of all that work and research ... not to mention all that wine!

Publication is still planned for September. Can't wait.

Monday, June 19, 2017

DESCRIBING WINE:

One of the great challenges of wine appreciation is describing what we taste, not just to other people but even to ourselves. Translating what we smell or taste into words is far more difficult than translating what we see into words. While dogs for example experience the world mainly through their sense of smell, we humans are far more visual and we describe the world in terms of what we see with our eyes. From an early age we are encouraged to 'show and tell' but we are never taught to 'smell and tell'. All languages have a rich and sophisticated vocabulary for describing what we see, and we can be very precise in terms of color, shape, size and visual distance when communicating with others - but such a vocabulary does not exist for smells and tastes. There is no semantic tradition in any culture or in any language to describe the things we smell, in the way that we are able to identify things that we see.

In fact the whole process of smelling is limited to a single word: smell. There is a smell coming from the mushrooms; I smell the mushrooms; the mushrooms smell. The same single word is used to describe the odor, the detection of the odor and the action of the odor. Compare that to all the words we have for seeing, looking, watching, gazing, observing etc. We must therefore look around in our personal memories for similar smells and tastes to compare with the wine and then, when trying to share our experience, make subjective comparisons: "it tastes like dark chocolate with a hint of mushrooms and damp leaves."

Another problem is that the part of the brain which processes smells also handles emotions and memory; it's not only the most primitive part of the brain, it's also the most subjective and personal. Smells are chemicals, and as the wine is exposed to air and evaporates, chemical molecules rise from the glass, through our nose to the receptors in our olfactory cortex.

The olfactory cortex which evolved over the eons into the amygdala, is the very oldest part of our brain, and is where emotions and memories are processed. The very earliest job of the brain was to process smell: does it smell good or bad? Is it something I can eat, something I would like to have sex with or something I should run away from before it eats me? Memories of smells were therefore critical to survival and, even in the amygdala of the modern brain, the chemical processing of smells and emotions, memory and desire, are all intimately entwined at a primitive level.

What the olfactory receptors do is transform the chemical information of the wine’s aroma molecules into electrical signals. These electrical signals travel into the brain’s cerebral cortex; the deepest, most primitive and least ‘conscious’ part of the brain where the electronic impulses are translated back into the memory of our mother’s kiss, a feeling of hunger, the desire for a woman, the pleasure of luxury, the terror of darkness or the lingering scent of invisible lilacs. These involuntary but powerful stirrings of our deepest emotions can all be released by the scent of a loved one’s pillow, the fragrance of a rose upon the evening air or the delicate aromas released by a glass of wine. Nothing is more powerful or evocative and less subject to our verbal skills or logical analysis than our sense of smell.

 One of my favorite times of year is the fall when I go mushroom hunting in France, combing through the woods of Perigord looking for cèpe mushrooms and truffles; stepping through the fallen leaves and savoring the musky dampness of the decaying vegetation. Most Spanish red wines have an earthy aroma that reminds me of my days in the woods and so for me the association of earthiness and damp leaves is pleasing and enhances my enjoyment of a good Tempranillo. But to another person, with different memories and experiences, the concept of damp organic decay might be totally disgusting and my enthusiastic description of the wine might persuade them never to try it. Worse still, because of the unpleasant associations created by my description, a person tasting the wine might possibly dislike it and unfairly discover in it all the bad qualities they imagined that I had suggested.

Wine drinkers therefore need to consciously train themselves to develop a commonly accepted vocabulary that will allow them to discuss wines with other people. With practice and concentration they can decide if a wine reminds them of fruit, or of vegetables, or wood, or fresh-cut-grass. If it reminds them of fruit - is it a berry fruit, a tropical fruit or a citrus? Over time, wine drinkers will discover a common language that enables them to share their impressions of a wine with other people using words and allusions that are mutually understood. But to develop such a vocabulary takes practice and conscious effort. The difference between a professional taster and the rest of us is training. Unfortunately the best wine class in the world, the best teacher, the best book can never impart that knowledge. It has to be accumulated, sip by sip, sniff by sniff, glass by glass by each individual wine drinker. The UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel at www.winearoma.wheel.com is a wonderful tool that will help the true connoisseur differentiate between the aromas of passion fruit and boysenberries but for the rest of us just learning to isolate the difference between a fruity taste and an earthy aroma is a good place to begin. Eric Asimov the excellent wine critic for the New York Times argues that we can divide all wines into sweet or savory. By sweet he does not mean sugary; he is rather referring to the impression of sweet that we get from a wine that is intensely fruity, plush, viscous and mouth-filling. By savory he means wines which are more austere with smoky, herbal, earthy and mineral tastes.

We are not limited to food or taste metaphors, as a visual species we have other tools to describe wine. Karen MacNeil, the well-respected wine critic and author of the Wine Bible quoted a restaurant owner’s description of Viognier wine. “If a good German Riesling is like an ice-skater (fast, racy with a cutting edge), and Chardonnay is like a middle-heavyweight boxer (paunchy, solid, powerful), then Viognier would have to be described as a female gymnast – beautiful and perfectly shaped, with muscle but superb agility and elegance.”  Britt Karlson, the Swedish wine critic once described an unfortunate wine as "… ideal for serving at a funeral dinner, because it provokes a fitting mood of sorrow and grief."


Alternatively we can seek our metaphor in music. In one of his Italian detective novels, A Long Finish, Michael Dibdin wrote: “Barolo is the Bach of wine … strong, supremely structured, a little forbidding, but absolutely fundamental. Barbaresco is the Beethoven, taking those qualities and lifting them to heights of subjective passion and pain … and Brunello is its Brahms, the softer, fuller, romantic afterglow of so much strenuous excess.” Those people who know their German composers and are familiar with Italian wines will recognize the insightful truth behind Dibdin’s metaphors. For those unfamiliar however, it could sound merely pretentious. And of course, that is the great danger of talking about wine; the metaphors can become too flowery and ostentatious. “This is a cheeky little Pinot; unctuously naughty with a promise of heavenly bliss, like a nun slipping out of her habit.”

Roald Dahl, that wonderful British novelist should really be given the last word on the subject: “Richard Pratt was a famous gourmet…. He organized dinners where sumptuous dishes and rare wines were served. He refused to smoke for fear of harming his palate, and when discussing a wine, he had a curious, rather droll habit of referring to it as though it were a living being. “A prudent wine,” he would say, “rather diffident and evasive, but quite prudent.” Or, “a good-humored wine, benevolent and cheerful—slightly obscene, perhaps, but nonetheless good humored.” (From ‘Taste’ a short story first published in 1945).




Sunday, June 18, 2017

New Wine Class

My new wine class begins tomorrow evening, Monday June 19th.
It's about the 25th or so program that I've conducted at Books & Books and, as always, I am excited about starting a new class and meeting a whole new group of students.

What is always amusing, to me, is how this group of adult strangers will awkwardly interact during the first class - not knowing each other, not knowing what to expect - and yet by the final class they will all be best friends, exchanging e-mail addresses and knowing so much about each other's wine preferences - and so much else.

If you were not aware of this class, unfortunately it is sold out, but I am sure we will run another class in the Fall. Just contact Jillian@booksandbooks.com and she will make sure you're included in the next session.

Summer Wine Class: June 19 - July 24, 2017

  • An intense six week (12 Hour) program designed for anyone who enjoys wine. Each 2-hour class is held on Monday evenings after work between 6:00 and 8:00 PM at Books & Books, Coral Gables, Florida.
  • Four individual wines are tasted during each evening session for a total of twenty-four different wines by the end of the program
  • Limited to a maximum of sixteen sympathetic souls who enjoy sharing a rigorous, weekly learning experience in the Coral Gables bookstore
  • The final class is followed by a dinner specially prepared by Chef Allen to pair with the 4 wines which the students voted to be their favorites during the course of the program.
Contact Jillian at The Cafe at Books & Books to confirm the dates and to reserve your place.  The $299 fee covers 12 hours of lectures, 24 different wines, all class materials and a four course wine-pairing dinner specially prepared by Chef Allen.

Gables store: 305.442.4408

Sunday, June 11, 2017

FOOD AND WINE PAIRING

What sort of food?   The very first and most important step is to decide whether your food is going to be delicate and mild tasting or hearty and flavorful. Is it going to be fatty or lean? Will it be rich, buttery and creamy or will it be thin, sharp and acidic? The wine and the food must balance each other so that a hearty dish will match a hearty wine while a mild flavored food will require a delicate wine. What is important is that neither the wine nor the food should overwhelm the other.
So a delicate Dover Sole for example would go well with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio but not with a Chardonnay; while a hearty steak-and-kidney pie would complement a Malbec but probably overwhelm a Beaujolais. However, the Beaujolais would go well with a light lunch such as cold ham, charcuterie and salad while the Chardonnay would be the perfect match for a rich chicken in cream sauce.

Traditional Red /meat: White /fish rule:   Some fish, such as cod, haddock and mackerel as well as all shellfish, are high in iodine, which is why red wines don’t do well with them. The iodine content reacts with the tannins in red wine and makes both the fish and the wine taste metallic and nasty. However, red wines like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or even certain Chiantis that are not high in tannins go very well with fish such as salmon or sea bass. Meats like chicken or pork go very well with full bodied white wines like Chardonnay, Riesling or even Gewürztraminer and rich patés like foie-gras in Perigord are traditionally enjoyed with a late harvest white wine like Monbazillac.

Tannins and Acids:  Tannins not only enhance the complexity of the wine itself but are also very useful for cleansing the palette of fatty foods. Lamb chops for example or a grilled beef steak will both be improved with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa whose astringent tannins will strip away the fatty coating inside your mouth.

Acids perform the same function as tannins in cutting through fat and so a fried chicken or smoked salmon, which would be overwhelmed by the tannins of a Cabernet would respond well to the cleansing acids of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Acids in wine should also match the acid in food. Pasta with a tomato sauce or indeed any food over which you squeeze lime or lemon juice should be paired with a light acidic wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or even Alvarinho. Cream sauces on the other hand will react badly to acid and so should be paired with richer more full bodied whites such as Chardonnay and Viognier.

National pairings and wine:  When in doubt, just match the wine with the nationality of the food. The two have evolved together over generations and – within the obvious rules listed above – will always complement each other. For example a pasta dish will almost always do well with Chianti and a Boeuf Bourguignon will always improve with Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

In my book, the section “Forty wines to try before you die” lists twenty-four different varietals in order of lightness with the more full bodied and heavier wines listed last. However, bear in mind that varietals often vary depending on their origin. For example, a Chardonnay from Chablis which is fairly flinty and austere would go well with snails or a fish simply grilled with butter and garlic but not with a chicken in cream sauce.  Chicken and cream sauce requires a more full bodied Chardonnay from California or Australia.

The following websites have excellent food and wine pairing tables and suggestions:



Friday, June 9, 2017

ACIDS IN WINE:

While the word “acid” evokes images of car batteries rather than a refreshing beverage, acids play an important role in both the making and tasting of wine. The two major acids, tartaric and malic, are both naturally present in the grapes as they first develop on the vine.

Tartaric acid, Unlike malic acid, is not so common in the plant world and, outside the tropics, is almost exclusive to the grape vine. One of the ways that archeologists have been able to identify ancient wine-producing sites is through traces of tartaric acid. Because tartaric acid is unique to the grape vine, residue of tartaric crystals in amphora and other containers provides an indication of a winemaking culture. Depending on the varietal of the grape and the temperature, tartaric acids can sometimes crystalize in the wine. When this happens, the crystals sink to the bottom of the bottles, where they resemble broken glass or “wine diamonds.” Although they are perfectly harmless and tasteless, consumers object to these crystals, and so most winemakers try to remove excess tartaric acid before bottling.

Malic acid is found in just about every fruit and berry plant and is most commonly associated with apples, which is where it derives its name, malum, the Latin word for apple. It is that sharp astringent taste of green apples which is most recognizable in an acidic wine. The malic acids play an important role in the growth of the vine, providing energy during photosynthesis and, at veraison, metabolizing into sugar. It is the malic acid which provides the sharpness to the flavors and which balances the sweetness of any residual sugars, as well as complementing the bitterness of the tannins in red wine. Too much malic acid in a wine will make it tart and unpleasantly astringent, and too little will make the wine taste flabby and dead.  The correct amount of malic acid is what provides the balance and harmony of a great wine.

Lactic acid. Unlike the other acids, is not found in the grapes, but is a product of a secondary fermentation. Most white wines and some red wines are not subject to the secondary fermentation, and therefore do not contain any lactic acid. Secondary, or Malolactic Fermentation, is the process by which certain bacteria convert the tart malic acids into the softer lactic acids. Lactic acid was first derived from sour milk in the eighteenth century, and the name comes from the Latin word for milk, lact. Most red wines and most Chardonnays undergo malolactic fermentation, partly to soften the tartness of the malic acids but also for the improved “mouth-feel” that results. Unlike, say, a Sauvignon Blanc, which retains the green-apple-sharpness of the malic acids, a Chardonnay following malolactic fermentation will have the softer, more “buttery” feel and flavor of the lactic acid.

Acetic acid is a product of the primary fermentation when the yeasts are converting the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. If the wine is further exposed to oxygen, the alcohol will be converted by bacteria into ascetic acid and eventually into vinegar. Not a good acid.

In addition to balancing the taste of the sugars and tannins in wine to create the complex harmony that wine drinkers so enjoy, acids also play an important role in protecting and stabilizing the wine on its journey from the initial fermentation barrels to its happy arrival in our glass.




Saturday, June 3, 2017

SULPHITES:

Like tannins, sulphites are often mentioned in connection with wine and their role and effects are often misunderstood. All wines contain sulphur dioxide, SO2, in various forms, collectively known as sulphites and even in completely natural wine it is present at concentrations of up to 10 milligrams per liter. The most important thing to understand is that sulphites are an entirely natural bi-product of yeast metabolism during fermentation and would be found in wines even if the winemaker added nothing to the juice. 

The Romans used to burn sulphur beneath their upturned amphora or wine containers to sterilize them before use and winemakers have been adding various amounts of sulphites ever since to prevent bacteria and bad yeasts from developing in the wine. In the late 1840s European vineyards were nearly all destroyed by a disease called oïdium and were saved only at the last moment by nation-wide applications of sulpher dust. 

Sulphites play a very important role in preventing oxidization and maintaining a wine’s freshness. Even so, compared to processed foods, dried fruit, sodas, packaged meats or even commercial fruit juice the amount of sulphites in wine is miniscule. On visits to Europe over the years, I have often been given bottles of wine made by friends for local consumption, not for export. These fresh wines which were delicious when drunk locally, had been made without the addition of sulphites and were sadly undrinkable by the time I had brought them home to the USA.

U.S. wine labels are required to indicate if the sulphite level exceeds 10 parts per million (ppm). Many red wines contain sulphite levels of 50 ppm but this should be compared with the 2,000 ppm sulphite level of French fries to put it in perspective. Some people blame the sulphites for the headaches they suffer when drinking red wine but in fact red wine has much lower sulphites than white wine and headaches are more likely to be caused by the tannins, the histamines or even the extra alcohol in red wines. Despite some of the hysteria about sulphites, the levels of sulpher dioxide in wines is too small to have any adverse health effects except for those people who are clinically allergic to sulphites, and the FDA estimates this to be less than 1% of the population. 

If you have eaten dried fruit or French fries with no ill-effects, then continue to drink your wine and not worry about sulphites.


Friday, June 2, 2017

Oldest Bordeaux?

There is an interesting article in last month's Vivino discussing what is possibly the oldest bottle of Bordeaux in the world. http://tinyurl.com/ydxg6yde

For those readers who are interested in really old, pre-Phylloxera wines, I must recommend a wonderful book by Benjamin Wallace entitled 'The Billionaire's Vinegar.' http://tinyurl.com/ybwdyqwc

Enjoy!



Wednesday, May 31, 2017

TANNINS & WINE

 Throughout my book and indeed any discussion of wine, there are many references to tannins. Tannins are chemical compounds known as phenols which are found throughout nature in most growing plants, in fact 50% of the dry weight of leaves consist entirely of tannins. Tannin is actually tasteless, it is a texture; you feel the coarse particles which stick to the surface of your tongue and teeth. The best way to think of tannins is to imagine sucking on a used teabag. The puckering and astringent sensation in your mouth is the tang of tannin. One theory for the prevalence of tannins is that it is Nature’s way to discourage animals from eating the leaves and stalks before the fruit and seeds are ready for dissemination. Some grape varietals, especially white grapes, have little or no tannins while other grape varietals – most notably Cabernet Sauvignon – have very high levels of tannins in the skin.

The word tannin comes from the German word for oak tree ‘tannenbaum’ from which we derive the words tan and tanning. (Oak tannins have always been used for turning animal hides into leather.) As we will see later, the tannins in oak play an important part in the aging of wine in oak barrels. A red wine with very low tannins such as Beaujolais can be drunk extremely young. A Bordeaux wine with very high tannins cannot be drunk when young; it would be impossibly astringent. Wines high in tannins need to be aged, preferably in oak, until, with the passing of the years, the harsh taste of tannins has mellowed. Moreover, with age, the Bordeaux wine has not only lost its astringency and become drinkable, it has substantially improved and those initially harsh tannins have added complexity and maturity to the taste. Without tannins, Beaujolais will not age and will deteriorate rather than improve while, thanks to tannins, Bordeaux wines just get better and better.

Although it’s true that thick-skinned grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon have more tannins than thin skinned grapes such as Pinot Noir, there are too many other variables to make a definitive list of grape varietals by tannin level. Where and how the actual grapes are harvested, how long the skins are macerated during fermentation and how the winemaker treats the must and how he blends the juices makes it impossible to say that a Sangiovese will always be less tannic than a Syrah or more tannic than a Zinfandel. A selection of grape varietals is listed in Chapter Eight from light to heavy or full bodied, but it is a general list and includes more factors than just tannins.


In her splendid Wine Bible, Karen McNeil, has listed red varietals by tannic level, from least to most tannic: Gamay / Pinot Noir / Sangiovese / Grenache / Zinfandel / Syrah (Shiraz) / Malbec / Merlot / Mourvédre / Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvignon / Petite Sirah / Nebbiolo.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Best Wine in World is British!

It has been named the world's best white wine, impressing a panel of 200 international experts so much that they scored it 95 out of 100.

Beating off 17,200 other entries, it won the Platinum Best in Show at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2017.

Yet it is a humble £13.95 bottle from Norfolk, a region that has hitherto made little impression on fine wine's top table.

Winbirri Vineyards' Bacchus 2015 wine was the victor, with judges describing it as the ‘perfect aperitif wine’.

They said the wine had a ‘complex, oily nose with spice, elderflower and citrus’. It was deemed to be 'very elegant and delicate with a slight spritz and a long, clean finish’.

Winbirri is a family-run vineyard, beside Norfolk Broads National Park, that was established in 2007. Like other wine producers in the UK, Winbirri has benefited from increasingly warm summers.

Lee Dyer, Winbirri's head winemaker, predicted that Norfolk wines would continue winning prizes. He told the Eastern Daily Press: "Norfolk has so much potential as a wine region, particularly when it comes to still wines.

"I think Bacchus has to be the jewel in the crown and, more importantly, for my site as it just works so well here. The flavour profiles and aromas we can achieve here from our vines are second to none."

The news is a boost for the English wine industry following a difficult spring. Unseasonal frosts in April have severely damaged this year's harvests across Kent and Sussex. Winemakers described conditions as the worst they had seen for 20 years.

From: The Telegraph.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/wine/worlds-best-wine-1395-a-bottle-dry-white-norfolk/










Friday, May 19, 2017

Wise Wine Quotes

“Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things and small people talk about wine.”
Fran Lebowitz

“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.”
Benjamin Franklin


Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Ernest Hemingway

“I can certainly see that you know your wine. Most of the guests who stay here wouldn’t know the difference between Bordeaux and Claret.”

Basil Fawlty, “Fawlty Towers”



Thursday, May 18, 2017

An Interesting Decade:

Altogether, the 1860s proved to be an eventful decade for French wine. To misquote Marcel Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes: “It started well but ended badly.”

1855 – Napoleon III orders the classification of Bordeaux wines

1861 – Classification of Beaune

1862 – M. Borty plants some American vines in his garden in Provence

1866 – Pasteur’s Etudes sur le Vin published

1867 – Most vineyards in Southern France appear to be dying

1870 – French government offers 30,000FR prize for a cure to Phylloxera

1871 – Proust born. France invaded and defeated by Prussia. Napoleon III abdicates. Phylloxera continues to destroy French vineyards



Monday, May 15, 2017

Robert M. Parker [2]

    Parker’s wine ratings dramatically affect the price of wine on the market. It is claimed that the difference between a Parker score of 85 and 95 can be ten-million dollars to the value of the wine. A wine that is rated at less than 70 can bankrupt the wine grower. The prices that people pay for wine, the wines that retailers and restaurants select to offer for sale, these are all affected by the judgments of Robert Parker. Even though his judgments may be fair and his opinions correct, I believe that it is wrong and unhealthy for any one individual to have that much power. Of course there are other wine critics and magazines who are also rating wines, but not only have most of them adopted Parker’s scoring system, most of them have also adopted his tastes and his preferences for the rich and powerful, oaky, fruit-forward reds that he so admires. Consequently we are seeing an international standardization of taste, a ‘Parkerization’ of wine.

    But the ripple effect goes even further than the wine market; it reaches as far as the cellar and vineyard. A winegrower who may have a vision of a unique wine he wants to make may hesitate or change his mind when thinking about how Parker might rate it.

    Of course there are many who oppose Parker and the style of wine he promotes; the ‘hedonistic fruit bombs’ – or ‘leg-spreaders’ as they are called. Parker once referred to such people as an “anti-flavor wine elite”, a phrase which went viral on Twitter and which has since been adopted by the very people he criticized. Parker’s detractors now sign themselves AFWE.

    Hence my ambivalence about Robert Parker: I like his writing, I share his tastes and I greatly respect his knowledge. Robert Parker should also be admired for making wine popular and accessible to Americans and he should be commended for cutting through much of the jargon and old-world mystique and bringing a New World freshness to the business. Unfortunately, the majority of people do not read his thoughtful tasting notes or his informed reviews; they just see the numbers – the Parker Points on the shelf-talkers. That’s where power corrupts absolutely.

    I just wish there were a couple more Robert Parkers, equally informed and passionate, with similar influence but with different tastes – not to mention a preference for a 20-point scoring system.


    For a list of all the French wines that Parker has awarded 100 points in his system, go to http://www.comptoirdesmillesimes.com/blog/les-meilleurs-vins-robert-parker/ 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

ROBERT M. PARKER [1]

 Robert Parker is an American wine critic and probably the most influential individual in the world of wine. I have very mixed feelings about Mr. Parker which I should explain before proceeding any further. Robert Parker started becoming known for his writing about wine in the mid-70s at just about the time that the Californian wineries began their renaissance; he has written a number of books on wine and he also edits the very influential Wine Advocate newsletter. As mentioned above, Parker’s 100-point scoring system has now become the industry standard. He is a man with a very deep knowledge of and passion about wine, especially the great reds from Bordeaux, the Rhone and California, and he has reached his position of eminence through hard work, dedication and simple expertise. Nonetheless I have two problems with Mr. Parker.

My first objection is personal and selfish. Parker and I share the same tastes; we both like bold, broad-shouldered, swaggering reds. For years I enjoyed drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Barolo and Barbaresco which were all affordable until Parker discovered them. By writing about these wines and bestowing his blessing he made them insanely popular. As a result, these wines are now extremely expensive and I can no longer afford to drink them.

My second objection owes more to Lord Acton: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I do not in any way mean that Parker himself has become corrupted, far from it, he is rightly proud of his high ethical standards; impartiality and independence from the wine industry. But unfortunately his influence is now so powerful that it has affected if not corrupted absolutely everybody else in the industry. For example, one of Parker’s early favorite winemakers was Michael Rolland in Pomerol whose wines Parker always praised. Rolland also worked as a consultant for various other neighboring wineries, creating a similar style wine to his own. These wines also scored well with Parker and so, inevitably, other wine makers beyond Bordeaux started hiring Rolland as a consultant and very soon Michael Rolland became the first ‘flying winemaker’. Jetting around the world, from Chile and Argentina to Australia and California, Rolland helps fellow winemakers create the style of wine that will score well in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate ratings, and thus be featured on ‘shelf talkers’ in wine stores everywhere. There is even a wine analysis company in Sonoma, called Enologix which uses complex chemical algorithms to advise winemakers exactly how to manipulate their winemaking techniques in order to get Parker scores in excess of 90 points.




Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Describing Wine [3]

We are not limited to food or taste metaphors, as a visual species we have other tools to describe wine. Karen MacNeil, the well-respected wine critic and author of the Wine Bible quoted a restaurant owner’s description of Viognier wine. “If a good German Riesling is like an ice-skater (fast, racy with a cutting edge), and Chardonnay is like a middle-heavyweight boxer (paunchy, solid, powerful), then Viognier would have to be described as a female gymnast – beautiful and perfectly shaped, with muscle but superb agility and elegance.”

Alternatively we can seek our metaphor in music. In one of his Italian detective novels A Long Finish, Michael Dibdin wrote: “Barolo is the Bach of wine … strong, supremely structured, a little forbidding, but absolutely fundamental. Barbaresco is the Beethoven, taking those qualities and lifting them to heights of subjective passion and pain … and Brunello is its Brahms, the softer, fuller, romantic afterglow of so much strenuous excess.” Those people who know their German composers and are familiar with Italian wines will recognize the insightful truth behind Dibdin’s metaphors. For those unfamiliar however, it could sound merely pretentious. 

And of course, that is the great danger of talking about wine; the metaphors can become too flowery and ostentatious. “This is a cheeky little Pinot; unctuously naughty with a promise of heavenly bliss, like a nun slipping out of her habit.”


Roald Dahl, that wonderful British novelist should really be given the last word on the subject: “Richard Pratt was a famous gourmet…. He organized dinners where sumptuous dishes and rare wines were served. He refused to smoke for fear of harming his palate, and when discussing a wine, he had a curious, rather droll habit of referring to it as though it were a living being. “A prudent wine,” he would say, “rather diffident and evasive, but quite prudent.” Or, “a good-humored wine, benevolent and cheerful—slightly obscene, perhaps, but nonetheless good humored.” (From ‘Taste’ a short story first published in 1945).


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

DESCRIBING WINE [2]

What the olfactory receptors do is transform the chemical information of the wine’s aroma molecules into electrical signals. These electrical signals travel into the brain’s cerebral cortex; the deepest, most primitive and least ‘conscious’ part of the brain where the electronic impulses are translated back into the memory of our mother’s kiss, a feeling of hunger, the desire for a woman, the pleasure of luxury, the terror of darkness or the lingering scent of invisible lilacs. These involuntary but powerful stirring of our deepest emotions can all be released by the scent of a loved one’s pillow, the fragrance of a rose upon the evening air or the delicate aromas released by a glass of wine. Nothing is more powerful or evocative and less subject to our verbal skills or logical analysis than our sense of smell.

 One of my favorite times of year is the fall when I go mushroom hunting in France, combing through the woods of Perigord looking for cèpe mushrooms and truffles; stepping through the fallen leaves and savoring the musky dampness of the decaying vegetation. Most Spanish red wines have an earthy aroma that reminds me of my days in the woods and so for me the association of earthiness and damp leaves is pleasing and enhances my enjoyment of a good Tempranillo. But to another person, with different memories and experiences, the concept of damp organic decay might be totally disgusting and my enthusiastic description of the wine might persuade them never to try it. Worse still, because of the unpleasant associations created by my description, a person tasting the wine might possibly dislike it and unfairly discover in it all the bad qualities they imagined that I had suggested.

Wine drinkers therefore need to consciously train themselves to develop a commonly accepted vocabulary that will allow them to discuss wines with other people. With practice and concentration they can decide if a wine reminds them of fruit, or of vegetables, or wood, or fresh-cut-grass. If it reminds them of fruit - is it a berry fruit, a tropical fruit or a citrus? Over time, wine drinkers will discover a common language that enables them to share their impressions of a wine with other people using words and allusions that are mutually understood. But to develop such a vocabulary takes practice and conscious effort. The difference between a professional taster and the rest of us is training. Unfortunately the best wine class in the world, the best teacher, the best book can never impart that knowledge. It has to be accumulated, sip by sip, sniff by sniff, glass by glass by each individual wine drinker.


 The UC Davis Wine Aroma Wheel at www.winearomawheel.com/ is a wonderful tool that will help the true connoisseur differentiate between the aromas of passion fruit and boysenberries but for the rest of us just learning to isolate the difference between a fruity taste and an earthy aroma is a good place to begin. Eric Asimov the excellent wine critic for the New York Times argues that we can divide all wines into sweet or savory. By sweet he does not mean sugary; he is rather referring to the impression of sweet that we get from a wine that is intensely fruity, plush, viscous and mouth-filling. By savory he means wines which are more austere with smoky, herbal, earthy and mineral tastes.